Understanding “Parousia” in 1 Thess. 4:13-18

Although I’m not blogging these days, I’m still very active.  I’ve recently been doing some pulpit fill at Grace Fellowship Church Chilliwack.  I’ve briskly preached through 1 Thessalonians, and as I was doing my prep for 1 Thess. 4:13-18, I was working through the idea of Christ’s “coming”, and hammering through the term parousia (translated “coming” in 1 Thess. 4:15, as well as many other places) in the New Testament.  For interests of time, I won’t go through all the information I found, but I also want to put some helpful information on here for anyone who is interested in working through the issue (and the people who were listening to the sermon and struggling to keep up).


When Paul mentions Christ’s parousia in 1 Thess. 4:15, it’s a term with some specific background and meaning.  Examining the background and meaning is helpful in sorting out what Paul’s aiming at in 1 Thess. 4:15.

a. What is a Parousia?

Parousia can be a general term used for the “coming” or “arrival” of someone. It’s used this way in mentioning:

– Messengers from the church in Corinth who went to Paul – 1 Cor. 16:17

– When Titus went to visit Paul in Macedonia and comforted him – 2 Cor. 7:6-7

– Paul’s visit to the Philippians – Phil. 1:26, 2:12

– The future coming of the man of lawlessness – 2 Thess. 2:9

– The transfiguration of Christ – 2 Pet. 1:16

Parousia is always referring to an official coming or arrival by someone in authority; it’s when a person arrives in the power of their office or authority.

– A Parousia is not simply a specific calendar day, but rather an official affair.


Parousia is also used in a specific sense: the “coming” of Christ. The incarnation wasn’t technically a Parousia, hence Peter only refers to the transfiguration as a Parousia.

– The incarnation was Jesus’ coming with his authority and power being hidden (i.e. John 2:11 – his first sign that manifested his glory), but his Parousia will be when he comes with all authority and power on full display.

b. What is Christ’s Parousia?

Christ’s parousia is mentioned multiple times in passing in the New Testament (1 Thess. 2:19, 3:13, 5:23; James 5:7-8; 1 John 2:28), but details are only given four times in the New Testament.

i. Matt 24.

– It’s when he comes on the clouds and all men will see him ( 24:30)

– It’s when he gather his elect from all over the earth ( 24:31)

– It’s when he suddenly and unexpectedly appears ( 24:36-44), and Jesus says that after listing two dozen preceding signs in Matt. 24:4-29.

– How can something happen unexpectedly where there’s a boatload of sequential signs?


– That should give us pause to recognize that there might be a little more to this all than appears on the surface.

– This is difficult to understand stuff, hence he includes the “let the reader understand” in 24:15.

– It’s also not my intent to try to deal with all the issues of Matthew 24 either.  This is only a word study of a single word.  Sorry.

ii. 1 Cor. 15:23:

– It’s when believer get resurrected.

– 1 Cor. 15 is using very broad language, summarizing the period from Christ to the eternal state: “Christ the firstfruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ. 24 Then comes the end, when he delivers the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every authority and power.

– So the parousia is sometime between Christ’s resurrection and the delivery of the kingdom to God the Father…that’s a fairly large window of time (but timing isn’t what Paul’s addressing in 1 Cor. 15).

iii. 1 Thess 4 – The text in question so we don’t discuss this here.

iv. 2 Thess 2:1-12

– This passage answers another question of timing, but it shifts from using “coming” in 2:1 to speaking about “the day of the Lord” in 2:2, which is a phrase that is even more broad in what it covers.

– The “Day of the Lord” follows the rebellion (2:3) which includes the lawless one establishing himself in the temple (2:4)

– Then, Jesus kills the antichrist by the breath of his mouth and brings all his influence  to nothing (my understanding of what’s meant by katargeo) by the appearance (epiphaneia) of his arrival (parousia) (2:8)

2:8 shows that Christ’s parousia is different than “the day of the Lord”, though they’re closely related.

The Parousia is a component of the “Day of the Lord”.

v. 2 Pet. 3:4-12  – People may suggest that this is a fifth mention that gives details of the parousia, but that isn’t really the case:

– The parousia of Christ is mentioned in that scoffers will mock Christ’s coming since death and creation has been continuing for as long as people can remember (2 Pet. 3:4).


– 3:10 – The “day of the Lord” will be when the heavens and earth will be burned up, as well as when all works will be judged.

– 3:11-13 – “Since all these things are thus to be dissolved, what sort of people ought you to be in lives of holiness and godliness, 12 waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be set on fire and dissolved, and the heavenly bodies will melt as they burn! 13 But according to his promise we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells.”

– Notice that Christians await the coming of the “day of God” rather than “Christ’s coming”.  This whole passage isn’t really giving details about Christ’s coming but rather the day of the Lord.

– Now there’s a question of the relationship of the “Day of God”, the “Day of the Lord” and the “Coming of the Lord.”  Are those synonymous? Somewhat different? Does one encompass the other and include more stuff as well?  Again, this is a word study, not a book on eschatology.  Feel free to tackle that one on your own.

All that being said, Christ’s parousia is his sudden arrival where the world sees him, his enemies are destroyed and their work is overturned, and his elect are gathered unto him.  The primary mark of Christ’s parousia is the resurrection of believers.

That study doesn’t seem to help much since it clearly appears like there’s some rather problematic understandings, though many of those disappear when one recognizes that a parousia, being a composite affair rather than a singular event, can involve multiple events at different times.  A parousia could be an event that involves dozens of activities over a period of time, and a parousia isn’t so much a “when” but a “what”.  What the person does is arrives in their full authority and power, acting in an official capacity.   That acting may occur in a cornucopia of events and affairs…or it may not.

Who knows?


That hypothetically means that there could be multiple parousias of Christ.  I’m not saying that there are, but only that it’s within the realm of possibility.  Again, I’m not addressing all the related questions right now; there are far too many.

This is just a Bible Bite, not a book.  I apologize for not being able to address and resolve every possible question or issue that may hypothetically arise.  I wish I could do that for everyone, but there’s this annoying affair called “life” that gets in the way.

Dang it.

Until Next Time,

Lyndon “Longing for the day” Unger



One thought on “Understanding “Parousia” in 1 Thess. 4:13-18

  1. Pingback: Understanding “Parousia” in 1 Thess. 4:13-18 — Watch Your Life and Doctrine Closely… | Talmidimblogging

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